As companions, one of the many attributes our canine pals have is their sensitivity to our needs. Our little pup, an English Springer Spaniel named Jessie, has an innate ability to sense when someone is feeling blue, so she stalks them around the house until she gets the opportunity to give them a hard snuggle. Some dogs can take it even further, sniffing out illnesses like cancer and diabetes, or even pregnancy. But is that why dogs put their paw on your pregnant belly sometimes?
As the American Kennel Club explained on its website, there isn't any definitive evidence that dogs know when someone is pregnant, but their incredible sense of smell could tip them off. Dogs have 60 times more scent receptors than humans and 40 times more brainpower dedicated to smell, so they could easily detect hormonal and behavioral changes indicating pregnancy. That's not to say dogs know exactly what's causing their mom to smell weird, but they probably know something's going on. Still, there's also no easy answer and no single way dogs react if they do detect pregnancy, canine expert Jeff Franklin tells Romper.
"Considering dogs, just like humans, are all very different in nature and respond to different scenarios with a variety of actions, this leads us to the same answer — there isn't a single answer for the intriguing behavior of pawing a belly," said Franklin, who has trained thousands of dogs for the military.
It's not just their mom's new scent that may clue dogs in to a pregnancy, according to Pedigree. It's the potential mood swings, not to mention that at a certain point the size of a pregnant owner's belly will tell on them if their hormone-fueled behavior doesn't. Dogs are finely attuned to humans and are watching you all the time, so eventually they'll pick up on the fact that change is coming... even if they don't understand that change will be in the form of a baby.
If dogs really do detect the hormonal and behavioral changes that accompany pregnancy, the paw tap could convey very different reactions to the changing situation, explains Franklin. For a nurturing dog like his German shorthair pointer, Valor, it would express her desire to be a part of the changes. A personable but stubborn dog, on the other hand, might be trying to get some attention for herself; an aggressive or unpredictable dog might be trying to reinforce his territory, Franklin continued. More independent dogs might not be particularly interested or concerned.
There are a few different behaviors which suggest that dogs might have figured out there's a bun in the oven, according to Pedigree. An increase in affectionate or protective behavior is common, or, in dogs who aren't keen on the change, more episodes of acting out (including regressions, chewing new items they connect with the upcoming baby, and a generally non-cooperative attitude). It's very individual to the pup, but as Franklin says, how your pet will react if they sense your pregnancy varies by individual.
"To pigeon-hole a dog and say that they did an action because of only one trigger or stimuli, this would be to miss many of the wonderful reasons we love dogs," he says. "They are each individuals and their reasoning can and often are very specific to their personalities."
No one quite knows whether dogs can detect your pregnancy, but they certainly have the tools to do so. Just remember that your fur baby cares about you too, so give them a little extra love before your little one arrives.